From the Sperry Garden – October, 2007

Pampas grass was a staple in South Central Texas when I was a boy. It was like wallpaper in the Brazos County scenery. Maybe it was because it always came into flower about the time that school resumed that I never developed much of a love for it. Maybe it was because I lost more than one baseball into its impenetrable midst. (No one comes out from a pampas grass search in one piece.)

Now, however, it has an esteemed place in our gardens, where it shows to our driveway, the county road passing by, and to the grandsons and me as we play catch after school (we don’t throw anywhere near it, however). This grass is a handsome plant. You see it in the photo backdropping our croton pots and just outside the shade lines of our Glendora White crape myrtle.

The Facts:
Native to the pampas of Argentina, hence the name. See how long it is until you hear someone calling it “pompous” grass. Actually, it’s a really humble performer.

Evergreen grass that is drought- and heat-tolerant. May brown in cold weather. If it does, use a machete to cut its sharp-edged leaves back to within 18 to 24 inches of the ground. New growth will quickly plume over them.

Best in full sun. Requires at least 7 or 8 hours of direct sunlight daily.

Reliably winter-hardy in the southern half of Texas. Root-hardy probably to I-30/I-20, but it can be killed to the ground by extreme winter cold. I saw it flowering near the entry to incredible Zion National Park in Utah several Octobers ago, so it can handle a good bit of cold.

Mature height, in flower, 6 to 8 feet. Compact forms that grow to 5 to 6 feet are also sold. Plants’ width will be equal to their flowering height, so give them plenty of room. Use it as you would a shrub, knowing that it’s almost impossible to keep it shorter or more compact via pruning. Makes attractive tall, screening plant.

Flowering time: Late August through the fall. Plumes will remain through the winter, but they can become rather tattered and matted following late fall rains.

Planting time: Anytime you find nice transplants in the nursery, although spring plantings may be better in colder areas of the state. If you intend to dig and divide established clumps, do so in late winter, just before the new growth begins.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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